What You Should Know About LEAD POISONING
by Mary-Margaret Gaudio, Mary Ellen Welch, Elizabeth Salsedo and Kay Renius

Lead poisoning is a serious but preventable health problem. No amount of lead in the body is safe. It can cause permanent damage. Both children and adults are at risk for lead poisoning. Unborn and nursing children, children from six months to six years of age and some adults are especially at risk.

Children are at greater risk because they tend to put things into their mouths. If these things contain lead or have lead dust on them, the lead will poison the children and stay in their bodies.


Low levels of lead in children can slow mental development and cause learning and behavioral problems. High levels of lead may cause lasting damage to the developing nervous system and the reproductive system. Kidney damage, anemia, deafness, blindness, coma and even death can also occur.

Adults can suffer from many of the same effects as children. They may also be affected by loss of hand/eye coordination, hypertension, high blood pressure and stroke.


Children with lead poisoning may not look or act sick. Many of the symptoms of lead poisoning can be mistaken for other illnesses. These symptoms may include tiredness, a short attention span, restlessness, poor appetite, constipation, headache or sudden behavior change. More severe symptoms include vomiting, changes in consciousness, and sight and hearing loss.


Everyone, everywhere is exposed to lead. Lead dust and lead-based paint are the major sources of lead poisoning. If paint weathers, flakes or becomes chalky, or is heated or sanded during renovation, it may produce toxic dust or fumes which could be inhaled. This dust could stick to children's toys, get on their hands and then be eaten. Children eat lead paint chips because they taste sweet.

Adults who work in lead-related industries or crafts can be poisoned at work and can accidentally bring lead dust home on their clothing. The entire family could become poisoned by inhaling lead dust. Lead gets into drinking water from lead pipes and solder. Lead can also be found in the paint on some toys, lead-glazed imported dinnerware, crystal, contaminated soil and the food grown in it, bullets, batteries, cosmetics, canned food and printing inks. Some folk remedies also contain lead.


You or your doctors may not suspect lead poisoning. The only way to detect it is by having a simple blood test. Every child between the ages of six months and six years should be tested for lead at least once a year. There are two ways to collect blood for testing. The first is a fingerstick, and the second is taking blood from a vein (venipuncture). Both samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis. When a fingerstick test is high in lead, it is necessary to check the results with a venipuncture.

To obtain a test, contact your doctor, local health clinic or local health department. If anyone in your household is diagnosed with lead poisoning, have all other household members tested for lead.

No amount of lead is safe. Severe cases may need repeated treatment. Less severe cases may require specific attention to diet and the environment. A diet of low-fat foods, nonfried foods, and those high in iron, calcium and zinc (such as beans and milk), will help to reduce the toxic effects of lead poisoning.


To prevent this harmful disease, test your home and the other places where your child plays or spends a lot of time. Dust, water, loose paint chips, soil and dishes can all be tested for lead. Your local health department can tell you how to take these samples and provide you with more information on lead poisoning

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